China has reacted angrily as Nancy Pelosi touched down in Taiwan overnight, announcing the country's most extensive military drills to date to take place around the island.
The House of Representatives Speaker arrived late on Tuesday night (local time), saying her visit showed the unwavering commitment of the Unites States to the self-ruled island which Beijing claims.
With social media in the region lighting up as the plane descended, Ms Pelosi's party was greeted on the tarmac by Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, and Sandra Oudkirk, the top US representative in Taiwan.
Second in line to the US presidency (behind the Vice President), Ms Pelosi framed the visit as one between two mutually respectful democracies.
"Our congressional delegation's visit to Taiwan honours America's unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan's vibrant democracy," she said in a statement shortly after landing.
"America's solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy."
— Samson Ellis (@samsonellis) August 2, 2022
Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, was swamped with activity as Ms Pelosi's plane headed for the island. With more than 700,000 people watching on, the site had to limit non-subscribers' access in order to keep the service working.
A skyscraper in Taipei lit up with a welcome message for the US politician while both supporters and those protesting the visit lined the streets.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen is scheduled to meet with Ms Pelosi on Wednesday morning.
As expected, her arrival prompted a furious response from China, which has vowed to encircle the island in military drills.
China's foreign ministry said it lodged a strong protest with the US, saying Pelosi's visit seriously damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, "has a severe impact on the political foundation of China-US relations, and seriously infringes upon China's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Chinese warplanes buzzed the line dividing the Taiwan Strait before her arrival. The Chinese military has been put on high alert and will launch "targeted military operations" in response to Ms Pelosi's visit, the defence ministry said.
The Chinese military announced joint air and sea drills near Taiwan starting on Tuesday night and test launches of conventional missiles in the sea east of Taiwan, with Chinese state news agency Xinhua describing live-fire drills and other exercises around Taiwan from Thursday to Sunday.
The Global Times mouthpiece has also championed a strong military response, cheering the deployment of J-20 stealth fighter jets and the apparent test firing of conventional missiles "that analysts said would fly over the island".
"On Tuesday night, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sneakily landed in China's Taiwan island like a thief, detonating the mine she has thrown over the situation in the Taiwan Straits and China-US ties," the state controlled newspaper raged in an editorial published this morning.
PLA will conduct important military exercises and training activities including live-fire drills in six regions surrounding the Taiwan island from Thursday to Sunday pic.twitter.com/k9q1WEDsyF
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 2, 2022
Military videos light up Chinese social media
The much hyped visit has been lighting up Chinese social media, even causing some services to reportedly buckle under the traffic.
"So Pelosi crashed Weibo. Some pages are slow to load. Some failed to load. Really interesting to read many anti-war comments. Many Chinese don’t want war. War won’t be popular," tweeted Li Yuan, the New York Time's Asia Tech columnist.
Chinese internet users have been sharing videos of military trucks and other vehicles being deployed in the Chinese region opposite Taiwan.
"It is an unprecedented moment on Chinese social media as these rare visions haven't been censored by platforms," noted the ABC's Asia journalist Bang Xiao.
Multiple residents continued to share clips in local WeChat groups, confirming their sighting of military vehicles in Fujian province, which lies opposite Taiwan. It is an unprecedented moment on Chinese social media as these rare visions haven't been censored by platforms. pic.twitter.com/vT7b25oQXq
— Bang Xiao 萧邦 (@BangXiao_) August 2, 2022
China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has never renounced using force to bring it under its control.
Meanwhile the United States has warned China against using the visit as a pretext for military action against the island.
Australia calls for calm deescalation
Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong has stressed the importance for all actors in the region to help restore calm and deescalate tensions.
"All parties should consider how to best deescalate the current tensions ... We all want peace in the Twain Strait," she told ABC radio on Wednesday morning.
"We've seen a lot of rhetoric ... we've seen military hardware deployed, my view is that we should continue to do everything we can to deescalate.
"I understand this is a very concerning situation for everyone. It is really important that we all continue to assert the importance of deescalating tensions."
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